Daf Yomi Yevamos 65
Rabbi Shalom of Belz once took his attendant and knocked on the door of the local bank manager.
“Rebbe,” the man answered the door in disbelief, “please come in.”
The visitors were escorted to a beautiful living room where they took their seats opposite their host.
The host sat there waiting for the Rebbe to speak and explain the reason for his surprise visit. But after half an hour of silence, the Rebbe got up to leave.
The host was completely bewildered and eventually summoned up the courage to go over to the attendant’s home and inquire as to the nature of the strange visit.
“I don’t really know,” he replied, “all I can tell you is that following our visit, the Rebbe told me that we came to do a mitzvah. I’ll try to find out what that mitzvah was.”
Rabbi Ilaa quoted Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon: Just like it’s a mitzvah to tell someone something they will listen to, it’s also a mitzvah not to tell someone something they will not listen to.
Rabbi Aba responded: It’s not just a mitzvah to refrain from telling them, it’s an obligation! As King Solomon declares in Proverbs, “Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”
The Belzer Rebbe’s attendant returned to the bank manager with the following message: The Rebbe said that we came to do the mitzvah of not telling you something that you would not listen to.
“What on earth do you mean?” asked the banker. “You know that I would do whatever the Rebbe would ask of me.”
“No, no, I’m sorry,” replied the attendant, “the Rebbe is pretty sure that this time you would not be prepared to listen.”
“Please, please, just tell me,” said the poor fellow, “I promise I will do whatever it is that the Rebbe is asking me to do.”
“Okay then, I guess, if you insist,” responded Rabbi Shalom’s attendant, “here’s the story: There’s a widow in town whose house is about to be foreclosed by your bank. He wants you to forgive the mortgage.”
“But I’m just the manager of the bank,” replied the confused man, “I can’t simply dismiss a mortgage if I feel like it.”
The attendant took the man’s response back to the Rebbe who replied, “And that’s why we went to his house to do the mitzvah of not saying anything. I knew that he would not listen.”
When the bank manager heard the Rebbe’s response, he was distraught. He immediately went to the bank and transferred the money to the widow’s mortgage from his own personal account to ensure that the poor woman and her children would not be left out on the street. He then understood the incredible wisdom of his Rebbe.
Of course the basic message of Rabbi Ilaa is not to go and sit in front of a person and give them the silent treatment. Unless you’re the Belzer Rebbe, it’s probably not the wisest tactic. Rather, sometimes, certain things are better left unsaid.
Your teenager comes down the stairs dressed terribly. You could lecture them on how to dress properly, but are they actually going to listen? Instead, maybe it’s better to turn a blind eye and avoid the conflict. Why use the opportunity to drive a wedge through your relationship with them? If they’re not going to listen anyway, don’t say anything at all.
The fellow sitting in the next row in shul chats all the way through davening. You might want to have a word with him. But do you really think he’s going to listen? If chances are, he’ll just ignore you and continue doing what he’s doing, Rabbi Aba teaches that it’s forbidden to have that conversation with him!
What’s more says the Talmud, sometimes it’s better to avoid telling people to do the right thing because “better they misbehave unwittingly than know the right way and continue to misbehave consciously”! There’s no point lecturing your neighbour about their religious standards and practices if they’re going to ignore your reproach. In fact, you are forbidden to do so! Doing so will only cause them to sin knowingly and will engender a rift between you. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue!
It’s a mitzvah to get up and say what needs to be said. But remember, it’s also a mitzvah to stay seated when nobody’s going to listen. May you always merit the ability to discern when to speak and when not to speak, and may your words be accepted with warmth and the eagerness to heed your advice!